You Can Make it Difficult to be Difficult

lightbulbWhy do bullies bully? Because it works. Why do controlling people manipulate others? Because they get what they want that way. It is easy to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Bullying is rife in our society and we wring our hands about it, but we often make it far too easy for controllers and manipulators to succeed.

When my son was in primary school, I heard many local teachers and administrators express concern about bullying. They often ended their remarks with, “but what can we do about it?” There seems to be a pervasive belief that adults cannot change this behavior and that children need extensive education to desist from it.

It was an eye-opener for me, then, when I sent my boy to a summer day camp at a private school. Here were hundreds of boys, playing sports together all day, competing with each other and behaving toward each other in a very civilized manner. This fascinated me. I knew some of these boys were cruel to each other in their regular classes, but at the camp, no one got put upon. My son verified that everyone was kind and polite. No one was teased. No one was called a name.

As I observed this phenomenon, I saw that boys were coached to behave, catechized in good sportsmanship and rewarded for their good behavior. The impulse to bully, tease or be unkind was addressed immediately. The impulse to share, be honest, or help was rewarded just as immediately with a badge.

The boys loved their badges and pinned them all over their hats. My son could tell me how he had earned each one. Those badges are still around after 15 years. I have a very fond memory of hearing my very competitive child tell me about the badge he had won that day.  He received it when he had stopped in the middle of a tussle over a piece of sports equipment, realized the other boy wanted it just as much as he did, and handed it over to that boy.

This was important learning that the camp directors and counselors had been encouraging consistently all along.  I have discovered that we can apply these principles to bullying in the office, in the home, even when the bully employs us or pays our bills. There are ways we can subtly exert power, avoid being controlled and encourage civility.

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